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Face palms to high fives: the highs and lows of pitching

April 24, 2013


My mum simply cannot believe we don’t get paid to pitch.

She’s seen me work on pitches – including long teleconferences while I’m on holidays at her house – and has heard how stressful they are.

‘And you can’t charge anyone for all that work?’ she says in an incredulous voice.

If you don’t work in professional services, it sounds kind of nuts. The work, the hours, the creativity that goes into winning a new client (or worse, keeping a current one).

And all the time, you have no idea what’s going on client-side.

Maybe they’re holding a beauty parade because the board told them to review suppliers. Maybe they have no intention of leaving their current supplier.

Or maybe it’s a fishing exercise to see how much it would cost, but they decide it’s waaay too expensive.

Maybe the marketing team wants to choose you, but the CEO wants to give the gig to their old friend/former agency/mate’s daughter.

Or perhaps the corporate comm manager who called the pitch is actually about to get sacked. (Yep, seen that one.)

Either way, the whole thing is a big ol’ pain in the butt, with more losers than winners. But that’s the game, and we’ve all chosen to play it.

What makes it more or less bearable is the way we’re treated throughout it. Just like you can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat waiters, you can gauge a person and an organisation by they way they deal with suppliers.

Last December, we presented to the board of a former client. They were all excited and positive. Give us a proposal! Tell us how much!

After a couple of months of hearing nothing, it was flicked down the chain to marketing. Fine, we’ll go meet with them. Oh, the brief has changed? Ok. Oh, the pitch is now competitive? Ok. Oh, you want a new proposal? Sure.

After a couple more months of hearing nothing, I finally get an email. ‘Thanks but no thanks. No guernsey for you’. Not a word of explanation, no feedback, no insights into what went wrong. Even when I asked for it. 

That’s the kind of shit, right there, that sends people heading to the Ashram. It’s ok that we don’t win every pitch. But what makes it a little less painful is learning from it, getting some intelligence on our competitiveness, even just feeling like we were close.

Luckily, right after this episode, I had a meeting with the CEO of a long-term client, who is not only passionate about his industry and the super fund he works for – he is also a damn nice guy. When the person at the top is a decent human being, it shows in the way the company runs. It comes out in their brand,  customer satisfaction, growth and relationships. Good stuff creates more good stuff. It’s not rocket science.

So why do so many people act like tools? What’s the big challenge with treating people respectfully, appreciating their work, valuing their time?

We are all clients and we are all suppliers at some point. So let’s think about the interactions we have and try to make sure we’re creating the good stuff, as often and as much as we can.

photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc


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